With the government releasing their controversial new anti-obesity program the subject of diet and nutrition has been in the news again.
Now, to be clear, the causes of obesity are vast and complicated, too complex to go into in any detail in this article. One thing is for certain, the science of energy balance is the mechanism to control. All the other factors simply influence how effectively you manage your Calories in versus the Calories out. No, this isn’t just another blog telling you to eat less and move more. But it’s true that an important step in the process is education. So, let’s discuss that a little bit.
Understanding the composition of foods
As I alluded to just now, Calories in Calories out is the mechanism to control. To be clear, CiCo is a separate concept to Calorie counting. It helps if you do know the energy value of the foods you eat. But you don’t HAVE to count Calories.
That said, if you wanted to get a better handle on how things work spending a week or two weighing and recording everything you eat. Use an app like MyFitnessPal would help you to understand just how many Calories are in your meals and which foods are piling in Calories that you don’t always need. A good calculator for knowing how much your body needs can be found here:
Once you know this you can learn to reduce the Caloric load of meals by being more mindful of your serving sizes. If you really love chocolate and forcing yourself to ban chocolate entirely from your diet is likely to create an odd mentality whereby you find yourself obsessing about chocolate and, likely leading to binges, don’t cut it out completely. Knowing how many Calories are in chocolate and finding a way to incorporate a little bit of chocolate into your daily Calorie allowance will mean you will never feel deprived and it’s far easier to stick to your nutrition plan.
The reason most diets fail isn’t because they don’t create fat loss. It’s because they fail to create sustainable fat loss. You put yourself on a highly restrictive diet plan, you learn nothing about the composition of foods or about behaviour change, you lose weight, then you go back to your old way of eating and put it all back on again. THAT is why education is important.
Reducing the energy cost of your meals
Right, let’s get into it then. To create meals that are tasty, filling and nutritious there are a few tings you need to understand. Protein and fibre are really important. Fibre is found in most plant foods including vegetables, potatoes, fruits and pulses. Fibre doesn’t only keep you regular, it also fills you up. Foods that are relatively high in fibre are quite bulky in terms of satiety. A baked potato, for instance, is quite a filling meal in itself. The same goes for lentils and most root vegetables. So making meals that contain a fibre source is a good idea.
Protein is extremely important for a number of reasons. It doesn’t just help to build muscle, it builds strong bones. Also, it is the MOST satiating of all the macronutrients and has very positive effects on your metabolism.
Therefore, if you make meals that contain a good source of protein (examples below) and combine that with some fibrous plant foods you have a healthy, balanced meal! That will fill you up for hours. This automatically helps to reduce the overall Calorie load of your daily intake by making you eat less food and fewer Calories in a day. Think about it, three 5-600kcal meals that keep you feeling full for 4-5 hours means no snacks and no bingeing on bread whilst you search the cupboards for something to cook.
A few examples of protein dense foods:
- Soy (tofu)
Some of these foods are higher in Calories than others. A fatty pork chop or lamb shank will have almost 2-3 times as many Calories as a chicken breast or lean beef mince. Pulses are high in carbohydrates as well as protein, but also very high in fibre so are difficult to over consume, unlike full fat cheese, which is really easy to overconsume.
Is this starting to take shape for you yet?
I understand that part of the stigma surrounding so-called ‘healthy eating’ is the cost. This is true if you only source organic vegetables, Tesco finest beef mince, line caught fish, etc. I fully support ethical farming and fishing, but I also appreciate that not everyone has the budget to support this and your health is the most important thing here. My advice here is to bin the organic produce. There is no difference in the nutritional content of organic versus non-organic cabbage (for example). But there is a pretty big difference in price.
When sourcing meats and fish go into the supermarket at times when they have a lot of reduced to clear foods. Usually towards the end of the day. You can usually find a shelf full of yellow label produce and can often find some real bargains, cuts of meat, packets of mince, fish from the fish counter that’s going out of date that day, etc. You can buy these in bulk and freeze them when you get home and save yourself, often more than 50%!
Buy bags of frozen veg or, if you have a market near you, you can often buy bulk quantities of fruit and veg for a few quid. Or, grow your own if you have the facilities.
But trust me, healthy foods are not as expensive as convenience junk foods. For the price of a daily Greggs meal deal you could feed yourself well if you made your food yourself at home. Stocking up on dry goods like pulses, pasta and rice is helpful too.
Of course, all this means that if you currently can’t, you need to learn how to cook. To quote food writer Michael Pollan; a poor woman who cooks will always be healthier than a rich woman who never cooks.
Let me illustrate this a bit more for you. Because protein is important, don’t forget that when you are in an energy deficit some of the weight you lose will be water dense lean tissues like bone and muscle. Therefore, eating a good amount of protein will help to maintain most of that lean mass and ensure that more of the weight you lose is from body fat. So, basing your meals around a quality source of protein is important. If it’s a lean cut of meat, something that fits in the palm of your hand is ideal, like a small to medium chicken breast (depending on how large you are). If it’s eggs, then at least 2 or 3 large eggs per serving.
Leaner proteins are best, as I stated. This is where Eatlean come in. Their protein cheese has about half the Calories of normal cheddar cheese and is a great way of adding more protein to meals with adding unnecessary Calories.
Low fat skimmed milk is also a good and very cheap source of protein, as are protein powders.
With all that said I thought I would give you an example of day’s worth of meals with a high nutrient but Calorie density.
3 egg omelette with Eatlean Grated Cheese with wilted spinach, and an apple
Tinned tuna in mixed leaf and bean salad, dressed with cider vinegar
Chicken breast with Spicentice Italian rub, served with seasonal vegetables in a rich tomato sauce.
Ensure that portions are realistic, if it doesn’t all fit on one plate then it’s almost certainly too much and you only need one serving, so no seconds!
If you need snacks look at things like a small pot of yoghurt with some berries. A glass of semi-skimmed milk, some vegetable sticks, an Eatlean cheese snack bar, a piece of fruit.
In addition to this, make sure that you stay active. That doesn’t mean that you have to exercise all the time but try and get plenty of steps in throughout the day. Exercise to improve your health and set performance goals like getting stronger, building muscle, improving endurance or mobility and consider those goals to be somewhat separate from goals relating to body weight. Exercise alone can improve your health, but it won’t make any difference to your weight unless you are managing your portions effectively. So, create an exercise habit, eat for improved health, manage your portions and enjoy the process. I can’t think of a single thing not to like about that.
Eatlean Nutritionist and host of a UK #1 rated health and fitness podcast.